Therese swallowed the last sugary sip of tea,
Turning towards the light outside, squinting,
She set her teacup into the saucer with a clink,
And looked across her table at the empty chair.
“Well, old girl, might as well go on out,”
Reaching across the table, she took her hat,
off the back of the chair where it always hung,
And shook yesterday’s leaves from its brim.
She never wasted any sunshine, our Therese,
And soon charged playfully from her well-kept holt,
Into the easy waters of the lake with a splash,
And rustled ashore through the reeds and grass.
“Quite a commotion up there,” she noted,
Dodging cypress knees as she followed the buzz,
Trotting across the old fallen log to the hive,
From a safe distance, she stood for a moment.
“Pardon me, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
Asked Therese of the cloud of busy buzzing bees,
In her experience, bees had precious little to say,
“Fine weather we’re having,” at best.
So it went, indeed, the bees had precious little to say,
Nothing of interest to anyone apart from other bees,
She never fit in with the bees, then, who does?
Why, not even the most cordial of crickets.
It’s no use talking to bees, as everyone knows,
Besides, how could they know loneliness, the bees,
Swarming all together in their hives as one,
With God, queen, and all that dripping honey?
Across the meadow a cardinal pecked the grass,
Picking for ticks and singing all the while,
“Dear cardinal, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
The cardinal glanced suspiciously at her smile.
He hopped two paces away, then glanced back,
Where Therese sat perched on her hind legs,
the cardinal sang a wall of song between them,
Before he flew to his love in the bowers above.
“Not much use talking to cardinals either, I suppose,”
Therese trotted towards the water’s edge,
“They all tweet the same tired little songs,
And what could cardinals know of loneliness?”
Across the meadow came the proud turkeys,
Three adults and nine nervous young in tow,
“Not much use talking loneliness to turkeys,”
So, “Good day,” she said to them with a nod.
“Good day, old girl,” clucked the father,
“Splendid!” agreed Therese, “What a sky today!”
“Splendid sky, indeed… carry on…” the turkey bowed,
And on they went, plucking and clucking along.
Leaving Therese there under her silent open sky,
She sniffed a waft of honeysuckle on the wind,
Smiled, and started towards the winding dirt road,
Where often sat the old tired alligator.
He would know about loneliness, she thought,
After all, alligators eat all their friends,
Or so say the turtles, but Therese wasn’t certain,
So much that isn’t so has been said and said again.
“Hmmmm…” grumbled the ‘gator, belly to the ground,
As much of an invitation as alligators ever mutter,
Therese stood back a safe distance and cocked her head,
“How big and deep can loneliness be?” she asked humbly.
“Why do you ask me such things?” The ‘gator growled,
“I’m sorry, my Lord,” she said, slinking back,
“Get away from me, what’s an otter, after all?”
“Far less than an alligator,” Therese humbly bowed.
“Indeed,” the ‘gator hrumphed as he settled on his belly,
All in the swamp know, alligators need forever appeased,
Lest they snap and make quarrels, as is their way,
And everyone fears the alligators, don’t you know.
Busy on her way, she trotted alongside the iron fence,
And thought ‘I suppose when one is so toothy and angry,
One doesn’t have much time to feel loneliness.’
“Sun is sharp today,” she said from the muggy shade.
Nestling between the broad roots of an old live oak,
She closed her eyes and thought on nothing but silence,
And there she soon found her forgetting place,
A quiet place with no loneliness at all.
A place with no buzzing bees, nor a drop of honey,
A place with no cardinals to snub her honest smile,
A place with no politely gobbling rafter of turkeys,
And where no alligator anger shamed her questions.
“How big and deep can loneliness be?” It lingered,
But dissolved into her silence, then clear as a bell,
“Not as deep as the silence,” whispered the sky,
“Not as deep as the silence,” smiled Therese.
She opened her eyes to find the perfect stone,
‘Just right for cracking snails,’ she thought,
But she wasn’t terribly hungry, so she set it aside,
And looked above, and heard the cardinals singing.
They sang, “How big and deep can loneliness be?
How long can the darkest storm rain?
How hollow the hole in the holy ground,
Where no love, nor rain, can ever be found?”
Funny thing about cardinals when they’re singing,
To you and I it would sound like tweets and nonsense,
But Therese more deeply understood each word they sang,
Than would even the most golden throated of birds.
“How big and deep can loneliness be,” sang Therese,
And on her way she went, back to her wide open lake,
Towards her cozy burrowed holt, to wait for the answer,
Or perhaps, to wait for a friend, who knew.
“How big and deep can loneliness be?”
‘Surely out there some other otter must know,’
Thought Therese as she floated in the water.
“Surely some friend must come,” she cried.
Yet for all her questions, she knew: ‘Loneliness,
Is deeper than the waters of this or any lake,
Ah, but most certainly not deeper than the silence,’
“And never so big as the wise sky above,” she smiled.